Five Keys to Getting Everyone to Join a Group

I get questions…a lot of questions!  When they apply to lots of people, I try to answer them here on the blog!  This is one of those times.  Here’s a question from a reader:

How do you motivate people in the pews & leadership to join a group? What are the keys to get everyone into a group?

That is a great question…don’t you think?

I’ve answered this question in different ways a number of times, but maybe never quite from this angle.  Let me take a fresh shot.

First, motivating everyone to join a group (from members and attendees to church leadership begins with your senior pastor.  It cannot be otherwise and to attempt it without your senior pastor’s full engagement is folly.  Don’t get me wrong, you can have small groups without your senior pastor’s help.  In my experience almost all churches have a group of people who will find a way to connect to a group whether groups are a priority or not.  In fact, there are people in nearly every church who find a way to connect even if it was discouraged.  But if we’re talking about getting everyone in a group…that begins with the full engagement of your senior pastor.  See also, Your Senior Pastor as Small Group Champion Leads to a Church OF Groups and The Real Reason Saddleback Connects So Many in Groups.

Second, motivating members and attendees to join a group requires the enthusiastic endorsement and participation of key influencers.  I’ve seen too many churches try to become a church OF groups without the support of key influencers (elders, senior staff, key volunteers, etc.) to be very enthusiastic about your chances without it.  See also, How to Engage Everyone: Notes and Resources.

Third, motivating everyone to join a group requires budget and staff that reflects its importance.  Declaring that being part of a group is important without redrawing and recalculating the budget and staffing is ludicrous.  See also, Budgeting for the Preferred Future.

Fourth, motivating everyone to join a group requires prioritizing group participation.  This often means paring back what is offered.  At a minimum, it means choosing to promote only small groups during certain key seasons.  This step, by definition requires choosing who you will disappoint.  Can you see it?  Prioritizing small groups as an essential step requires not prioritizing other menu options.  See also, Small Group Ministry Roadblock #2: A Bloated Belong and Become Menu.

Fifth, motivating everyone to join requires an all out effort over several seasons.  This isn’t a mission that can be accomplished in one all out effort.  If you want to connect everyone, way beyond the usual suspects, you must stay this course for several seasons.  The best example of this, at least in the U.S., is Saddleback where they’ve been on a mission since the mid to late 90s.  Since they’ve currently connected over 140% of their weekend adult attendance in groups…they are a good example to emulate.  See also, Wash, Rinse, Repeat and the Long Run and The Unexpected Twist in Saddleback’s Exponential Growth Formula.

Full Disclosure: The very best way to do all of this is to commit to an annual church-wide campaign.  I can coach you on this.  I regularly have 5 to 10 churches that I work with personally to help design a custom strategy.  I’ve worked with a long list of churches of all sizes.  Interested? Email me to find out how.

What do you think? Have a question? Want to argue? You can click here to jump into the conversation.

3 Steps to Take When the Flux Capacitor #FAILS

flux capacitorI love Ed Stetzer’s line that “If the 1950s came back, many churches are ready.”  I don’t know what happens when you read the line, but here’s what runs through my mind*:

  • Sunday morning services featuring stanzas 1, 2 and 4 from two hymns from the 16th, 17th or 18th century (Isaac Watts, Charles Wesley, and John Newton) and one from either the 19th century (Fanny Crosby) or a southern gospel chorus (think How Great Thou Art or He Touched Me).  Ultra progressive churches would later substitute a praise chorus from the Gaither Vocal Band.
  • King James Version (even though the last native users of the King James english had been dead for over 200 years).
  • Come forward invitations (The busses will wait.  If you came with a friend…they’ll wait).
  • Sunday school for all ages.
  • Dinner on the grounds.
  • Sunday night services (unique content, sometimes tailored to the most faithful)
  • Sunday night programming (discipleship training, youth choir, etc.).
  • Monday night visitation (who doesn’t like two strangers showing up at dinner time)
  • Wednesday night prayer meeting.
  • Wednesday night programming (Royal Ambassadors, Girls Auxiliary, choir practice, etc.).

Here’s the question of the day:

How close does your church’s current ministry model fit this paradigm?

Listen…if you’ve simply substituted menu items (i.e., Awana for Royal Ambassadors and Girls Auxiliary, on-campus discipleship groups for prayer meeting, and the New King James Version for the original)…you fit the mold Ed Stetzer has written about.  It may very well be that you have a myopic understanding of the culture.  As a result, you probably have a bloated belong and become menu that is keeping you from effectively reaching your community.

Here’s reality.  If this is your current ministry model, you’re counting on a flux capacitor.

Need to change?

I realize that what I’ve identified here is laughable to churches that have already joined the 21st century and terrifying to those that haven’t.  Still…I’m hoping that if you need to change and want to change, you’ll take these critical steps.  Please don’t hear judgement.  Hear encouragement!

Three Steps to Take When the Flux Capacitor #FAILS

  1. A thorough diagnosis of your present.  See also, Diagnosis: Brutal Honesty about Your Present.
  2. A thoughtful declaration of your preferred future.  See also, Start with the End in Mind.
  3. A series of determined steps in the right direction.  See also, Milestones that Lead to the Preferred Future.

*I was born in 1956…so I’m really describing Southern Baptist churches of the 1960s.

Want do you think? Have a question? Want to argue? You can click here to jump into the conversation.

Don’t Miss This Timely Study from Rick Warren: Son of God: The Life of Jesus in You

son of godI had a chance to spend some time this week with a powerful new study from Rick Warren, the founding pastor of Saddleback Church and #1 New York Times best-selling author of The Purpose Driven Life.  Son of God: The Life of Jesus in You, is a new 6 session small group study based on the feature film produced by Mark Burnett and Roma Downey.

DVD-driven, this 6 session study features teaching by Rick Warren as he explains how you can find your purpose in studying the life of Jesus.  The video sessions are 20 to 35 minutes in length and are enhanced with scenes from the Son of God movie.

Son of God focuses on a very powerful set of themes that do much more than follow the life of Jesus.  This study is designed to give you “practical steps to overcome temptation, suffering, and persecution and leverage these challenges to discover and fulfill God’s plan for you.”

The 6 session titles and themes are:

  • Jesus’ Baptism and Your Baptism
  • Jesus’ Temptation and Your Temptation
  • Jesus’ Suffering and Your Suffering
  • Jesus’ Death and Your Death
  • Jesus’ Resurrection and Your Resurrection
  • Jesus’ Ministry and Your Ministry

The study guide provides a number of very important features:

  • A lesson outline designed to help you take notes as you watch the session video
  • Discovery questions designed to help you dig in to the truths you are learning,
  • Application exercises to help you put what you’re learning into practice
  • Prayer helps
  • Additional scripture for further study and personal devotions

Son of God is very skillfully designed to be user friendly.  The member book makes it easy for just about anyone to host a study in their home, at work, at church or even at a coffee shop.  Every member book includes a set of helps for hosts.  The video is very inspiring and application oriented.

Son of God: The Life of Jesus in You is a very powerful experience.  The unique combination of Rick Warren’s sensitivity to the hangups and hurts of real people coupled with the compelling video from the feature film make this study very timely.  If you’re on the lookout for small group material that is an easy invite and even easier to use, don’t miss this study.  I highly recommend it!

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above may be “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I may receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Do Your Small Groups Cultivate This Powerful Ingredient?

What have you designed your small groups to produce?  Such an important question.  When I’m asked a question like that, I’m always drawn back to Andy Stanley’s line that “your ministry is perfectly designed to produce the results you are currently experiencing.”  It’s easy to substitute the words small groups for ministry as in “your small groups are perfectly designed…”

So what have you designed your small groups to produce?

I guess the easy answer is something like, “our small groups are designed to produce disciples.”  Or “disciples who make disciples.”  Or fully devoted followers.”

All good.  Hopefully all true.  But I want to shine the spotlight for a moment on an ingredient I’m thinking about more and more.  I want our small groups to intentionally cultivate a sense of family.  This was one of several ingredients I wrote about in The End in Mind for My Ideal Small Group.

A sense of family.  Why is that ingredient important?  Clearly the family is God’s design and yet a growing number of people don’t live anywhere near their family.  You may live near your family, but if you do, you are rapidly becoming an exception.

With one exception, most of my ministry has been in areas that were quite transient.  Cities or parts of cities where it was common for few were from there.  Southern California. The Woodlands, Texas.  Roseville, California.  Las Vegas.

The one exception has been Orland Park, Illinois in southwest Chicago.  What an amazing thing to realize that many in our congregation lived within 20 minutes of where they grew up.  Southwest Chicago is one of the most static communities in the country.  It is very common for adults to have large extended families, parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters, uncles and aunts and cousins who live nearby.

My sense is that one of the ingredients we must help our groups cultivate is a sense of family.  Far beyond a Bible study.  Way beyond a group that gathers for two hours on Thursday nights…we need to be cultivating a sense of family.

In The End in Mind for My Idea Small Group I wrote:

My ideal group will definitely have a sense of family.  A really healthy family.  We may not always agree, but we’ll always feel like we’re safe, loved no matter what, forgiven when we do dumb things or say dumb things.  Or mean things.  When something good happens for us everyone will celebrate with us.  When something bad or difficult happens, those same people will be the ones crying with us.  My ideal group will make it easy for me to belong.

Life-change happens when we’re known.

What are you doing to cultivate a sense of family in your groups?

What are you doing?  Have a question?  Want to argue? You can click here to jump into the conversation.

FAQ: What Needs to Be Done in the First 100 Days?

I get asked a lot of questions.  Emails.  Twitter and Facebook messages.  Blog comments.  You get the picture.

I answer a lot of questions.  And some of them turn into blog posts.  Especially when they are a question a lot of people have.

The question yesterday was: “If you were in my shoes what would you do in your 1st 100 days in a new small group ministry position?”

That’s a good question.  You might not have it right now…but you may one day.  And in the meantime, the answer is a collection of agenda items that will help you too.

And it turns out I’ve got a lot of experience at this very thing.  I’ve had 5 first 100 days in the last 10 years.  You read that right.

Here are the things I do in the first 100 days.  Very important: These are not sequential.  The first three are done concurrently.

  1. Get an accurate sense/count of the existing small groups and their leaders.  I want to know how many there really are, how long they’ve been meeting, and how they began.  I want to know how many members actually attend.  I want to know if they have an apprentice or co-leader.  Depending on the size of the church and the number of existing groups you can gather this information several ways (email survey, phone call, cup of coffee, etc.).  See also, How to Diagnose the Groups in Your System.
  2. Get an accurate sense of any existing coaching structure.  This is very important and it’s second on my list because it determines some very important moves.  This information tends to be most effectively gathered in person because it’s difficult to assess someone’s capacity in an email response or even over the phone.  I want to form my own opinion about the capacity of each current member of the coaching team (30, 60 or 100 fold).  I also want to know whether they are really engaged in it.  See also, Diagnosis: The Coaches in Your System.
  3. Get a very accurate sense of your new senior pastor’s enthusiasm for small groups, discipleship and community.  Ideally, you will have begun this before you agreed to join the new team, but this is of great importance.  What you are able to expect in the way of support, whether your new senior pastor is in a group, if they freely talk about the importance of being connected, and if they are willing to embed asks into their weekend messages are all extremely important to understand.  What they are willing to do absolutely determines what you are able to accomplish.  See also, 5 Things Senior Pastors Need to Know about Small Group Ministry.
  4. Develop a grouplife calendar and strategy for the first year.  What the next 12 months look like is somewhat based on what you are discovering in the three assessments you are processing.  You’ll need to include strategies that launch groups and connect unconnected people and take advantage of the three main connecting seasons.  You’ll also need to include coaching development and leader development.  The season in which you begin and the urgency of the connected/unconnected ratio play key roles in what you do first but the big rocks are nearly the same everywhere.  See also, How to Build an Annual GroupLife Calendar.

I’ve written a couple series of articles that are important understanding about the bigger picture.  If I Was Starting Today is a 7 part series that tackles this same idea from another angle.  Keys to GroupLife at Crowd’s Edge takes an important look at the design of a small group ministry capable of reaching  beyond the congregation.

5 Reasons Why Groups Matter To Me

I’m often asked why I care so much about groups.

I know everyone has their own opinion about something like this.  These are the reasons why I do what I do.  These are the reasons groups matter to me.

5 Reasons Why Groups Matter To Me:

First, groups matter because they are the optimal environment for life-change.  The Willow Creek team from the early 90s got this and introduced a way of talking about the reality that life-change happens best in small groups.  20 years later Andy Stanley and the North Point crew have introduced a new line: “life-change happens best in circles, not in rows.”  Willow was right then.  Andy Stanley is right now.  See also, Andy Stanley on Creating a Culture That’s All About Circles and What’s Better? Rows or Circles?

Second, groups matter because disciples are best made in a group.  One-on-one discipleship or a triad may be the model you are most familiar with, but it’s interesting that one-on-one is not the model Jesus or Paul used.  Of course…they also didn’t seem to use study guides either.  Disciples are best made in a group because everyone in the group brings a different set of experiences, a different gift-mix.  If it’s just me and you, you get what I bring (good and bad) and nothing more.  See also, Four Leading Indicators of Small Group Ministries that Make Disciples.

Third, groups matter because they help make a large group small.  There may be an advantage to anonymity when you’re not sure if you will like something, but that advantage quickly loses its appeal.  To feel like a face in the crowd is to be lonely and being alone or lonely is not God’s design.  We were created with an innate desire for connection.  See also, How to Calm an Unconnected Person’s Second Greatest Fear.

Fourth, groups matter because unconnected people are always one tough thing away from never being at your church again.  Loss of a job.  Divorce or separation.  A devastating diagnosis.  A child in trouble.  One tough thing.  See also, 5 Things You Need to Know about Connecting Unconnected People.

Finally, groups matter because in they are a more attractive invitation in the 21st century.  Listen…we are moments away from the day when it will be much easier to say come over than come with me.  In some parts of the world we are already there.  In the words of William Gibson, “The future is already here.  It’s just unevenly distributed.”  The handwriting is on the wall.  See also, 5 Essential Practices of a 21st Century Small Group System.

What do you think?  Have a question?  Want to argue? You can click here to jump into the conversation.

5 Seriously Wrong Questions about Small Group Ministry

I love a great question.  I actually look for them and even write them down when I hear them or copy them when I read them.  See also, Quotebook: Never Stop Questioning.

But there are some questions that are absolutely the wrong question and they lead to the wrong answer.  See also, The Right Answer to the Wrong Question.

Here are a few of my favorite frequently asked wrong questions:

  1. Why can’t we find enough qualified leaders to connect the people who sign up to join a group?  The short answer?  You are probably using an old school system that depends on apprenticing, signing up potential leaders to training courses, or pleading with obviously qualified members to leave the group they love and start a new one.  What’s the right question?  What system(s) eliminate this issue?  Taking my cue from the Andy Stanley line that your ministry is perfectly designed to produce the results that you are currently experiencing, I can say with certainty that the design of the system you are using is the issue.  See also, Top 5 Keys to Starting New Groups. Lots of New Groups and My Top 3 Ninja Ideas for Recruiting Small Group Leaders.
  2. What is the best way to “vet” new small group leaders?  Can you see where this question leads?  The question assumes that “vetting” must be done and that there is a better outcome if you do it the right way.  See that?  Actually, vetting isn’t a bad thing to do, but the search for a best way to vet new small group leaders is based on the notion that safer leaders lead to better groups with fewer issues.  In my experience, focusing on vetting produces fewer groups.  Better to focus on ways to make it easier for new leaders to invite their friends and build their own groups.  What’s the right question?  Is our system designed to make it easy to begin and nearly automatic to step into a leader development pathway?  See also, Evaluate Your Small Group Ministry with My 10 Signature Point Checklist.
  3. Since coaching doesn’t work…how else can we support and develop small group leaders?  My answer?  Coaching is not the issue.  It does work and is still the best way to support and develop new small group leaders.  If you’re trying to retroactively assign coaches to existing small group leaders, you should expect something like the results of a bad organ transplant.  Rejection.  What’s the right question?  How can we build an effective coaching structure that identifies, recruits and develops the kind of coaches that can do to and for our leaders what we want leaders to do to and for our members?  See also, How to Build an Effective Coaching Structure.
  4. How can we reinforce struggling small groups?  This is a seriously wrong question because it assumes that you should do something out-of-the-ordinary to prop up group leaders and their groups when they struggle (most commonly this is about “not enough members).  Artificially resuscitating struggling groups almost always leads to a lifelong dependency for new members.  What’s the right question?   How can we build a small group culture where it is easy to take a test-drive as a host, celebrating those who try, while allowing struggling groups to end with grace (and find a group to join)?  See also, FAQ: How Can We Help Groups that Are Struggling to Add New Members?
  5. How can I prevent heresy in our small groups?  This question is most commonly asked by detractors of a lower bar of leadership, but is still asked by those with a heightened interest in control.  It’s been said that “you can have growth or you can have control, and you have to decide how much of each you want.”  In my mind, the explanation of the Church in the 1st century is not control.  What’s the right question?  How can I provide a pathway for group leaders that will keep them focused on the right destination?  See also, Steve Gladen on Saddleback’s Leadership Pathway.

What do you think?  Have a question?  Want to argue? You can click here to jump into the conversation.

Please Don’t Miss This Resource! Life As We Know It

HostBox_WhiteBGI’ve been getting to know a fascinating new study developed by Spread Truth called Life As We Know It.  If you’ve been along for much of the journey here, you know I review a lot of small group studies.  I have to say Life As We Know It is easily one of the most intriguing new small group experiences I’ve seen in several years.

Don’t miss the special promotion below!

The powerful idea that makes this study so interesting is that everybody has a story.  Further, “sharing stories is foundational to community and the meaningful relationships we all long for.”

Because Life As We Know It is not a Bible study, it is well-suited for use with neighbors, friends and co-workers as well as small groups and ministry teams.  In my mind, the fact that it is designed to “facilitate gatherings where the art of storytelling is practiced and deeper relationships are forged” is one of the genius elements of the experience.

There are a number of very cool aspects that will make this an easy invite.  From the simple invitations to the Story Books and Questions in a Box, the materials have a very good feel.  The four sessions in the Story Book are designed to produce an engaging conversation.  I really like the simple design.  Not too slick, the Story Books keep the focus on interaction.  The Host Box includes a set of conversation starting questions (a free app is also available at

I really can imagine Life As We Know It being a key to building relationships in all kinds of places and and all kinds of groups.  Not the usual prefab Bible study, some host training could be an advantage, but not essential.  Keeping in mind that simply getting to know the stories of neighbors, co-workers, friends and family will open the door to entirely new experiences…I’m loving thinking about the doors of opportunity this study will open.

Take Advantage of This Special Promotion!

Want to get the feel of the material?  The folks at Spread Truth have a great promotion going for the first 250 customers.  A free Host Box (a $35 value)!  Use the Coupon Code: FreeHostBox at checkout.  Shipping is not included (should be about $6).  Offer expires 4/30/14.  Take advantage of this special offer right here.

LifeAsWeKnow.It from spreadtruth on Vimeo.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above may be “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I may receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Quotebook: Never Stop Questioning

I’ve written many times about the power of a great question.  Here are two of my favorite posts: Supercharge Your Ministry Impact with These 5 Questions and Ministry in a Fog? Here are 6 Critical Questions That Create Clarity.

Here is what Albert Einstein thought about questions:

“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.” – Albert Einstein

When was the last time you asked a great question?

Do You Know the 5 Keys to Unlocking Small Group Ministry Impact?

Having trouble figuring out how to unlock small group ministry impact?  Maybe you’re just beginning to think about prioritizing small group ministry.  Maybe you tried once and couldn’t get it off the ground.  Or maybe you’ve tried multiple times to launch small group ministry and just can’t figure out how to make it work.

No matter what your experience has been, there are at least 5 very important keys to unlocking small group ministry impact.

5 Keys to unlocking small group ministry impact:

  1. Increase ministry acceptance by leveraging the influence of your senior pastor.  Face it.  Ministry impact almost never develops momentum without the endorsement of your senior pastor.  Further, in most churches only those ministries championed by the senior pastor will attain enduring significance.  See also, 5 Things Senior Pastors Need to Know about Small Group Ministry.
  2. Decrease competition by streamlining the belong and become menu.  This is an essential ingredient.  Until you’ve narrowed the focus and streamlined your menu, you shouldn’t be surprised when your people can’t figure out their next step.  It has been demonstrated conclusively that the more choices on the menu, the fewer purchases or selections are made.  See also, Small Group Ministry Roadblock #2: A Bloated Belong and Become Menu and Is An Artificial Barrier Limiting Growth in Your Small Group Ministry?
  3. Increase awareness by increasing the frequency of promotion.  Keep in mind that unconnected people are often infrequent attenders.  If you’re only occasionally talking about the importance of being connected in a small group, you shouldn’t be surprised if more than 50% of your unconnected adults never really understand the importance of a small group or know about the next connecting opportunity.  Why You Must Make the HOST Ask Several Weeks in a Row.
  4. Decrease hesitation by eliminating inhibitors.  An inhibitor is anything that causes alarm bells to go off inside the heads of unconnected adults.  Lifetime commitments (anything longer than 6 weeks), topics that appeal only to seasoned Christians, and fears about the kind of people who will be in the group are just three of a number of damaging inhibitors.  If you want to make it easy for unconnected people to say yes to a small group, you must eliminate inhibitors.  See also, 5 things You Need to Know about Connecting Unconnected People and Does Your Topic Connect with Your True Customer?
  5. Increase response by creating great first steps out of the auditorium.  Another very important key, many unconnected people stretched far out of the their comfort zone just to step into your auditorium.  Some drove by your location for several years before they got up the nerve to attend one of your services.  Others actually made it to your parking lot more than once before they ever got out of their cars.  If you want to connect these people, creating great first steps out of your auditorium is essential.  See also, How Would You Rate the First Steps Out of Your Auditorium? and How to Calm an Unconnected Person’s Second Greatest Fear

What do you think?  Have a question?  Want to argue?  You can click here to jump into the conversation.